Four hours of golf reveals more about a person’s character than three days around a conference table, right? Absolutely, but the character-revealing process starts earlier than you think—with your choice of which golf course to play.
You may have a decent swing and a courteous manner, but your selection of a golf- outing course makes its own separate impression on people, serving up clues about your judgment and personal style. If you’re the one gathering colleagues and clients together for some bonding mixed in with skull sessions, you need to understand how and why one golf venue differs from another.
And you can’t just make the golf equivalent of ordering the most expensive wine on the list. High-end golf courses are have been built at a fast pace for two decades, causing fashions and trends in course design to swing back and forth at a swift pace. Within all this activity, site-choosers for corporate golf need some basis for navigation. You don’t have to be able to name Seth Raynor’s first solo design effort (Westhampton C.C. on Long Island) or the most recent minor masterpiece of every up-and-coming architect. In fact, if you can make yourself familiar with the following trends and concepts, you’ll be way ahead of most people.
MULTI-COURSE RESORTS PROVIDE OPTIONS. DON’T IGNORE THEM
Case in point: Doral Golf Resort and Spa is just minutes from the Miami airport, with a renowned spa amenity and extensive choice in lodgings. And yes, there are six golf courses–but only one with a brawny nickname and a PGA Tour pedigree, the Blue Monster. Chris Gory, a one-time Doral staff professional, saw many a golf-loving CEO diddle with the question of which course to select for a large group of semi-skilled players. The resort has a reasonable solution, as Gory explains: “Along with the Blue Monster, which not only looks intimidating but plays that way, we have courses like the Gold and Silver, which appear difficult but offer lots more room to play safe or bail out.”
Can the ranking executive split his group between two courses–one bear and one pussycat? That might send the wrong signal, especially if the point of the meeting is team-building and togetherness. One solution: arrive a day early with your fellow hardcore golfers and play the bear.
FIND SOMETHING FEARSOME AND YANK ITS FANGS
According to veteran course architect Robert Muir Graves (La Purisma Golf Club, Sea Ranch Golf Links), the corporate chieftain’s best course of action is to book a difficult layout then customize it to promote maximum enjoyment. “For what these big-name courses charge you to bring in a group,” says Graves, “the person footing the bill should be allowed to meet with the golf director or the superintendent and identify every possible tactic for setting the course up to play easy, without being too obvious about it.”
In other words, when the cups are cut, let there be one semi-tough pin placement early and make the rest as forgiving as possible. Have the blue markers moved to where the whites usually are. If the tee boxes are scattered in several places, choose the one that most forgives a slice. If your group is large enough, you can demand this kind of service whether playing at a resort or at a private club that is renting its course out for the day. “When golfers play up to their expectations, or better, they’re happy,” says Graves. “Course setup can do a whole lot to make that possible.”
A “WOMAN-FRIENDLY” LAYOUT IS EASY TO JUDGE
Males who play business golf on a regular basis can short-cut their way to a healthy understanding of how various golf courses will either accommodate or frustrate women players. The next time you play 18 holes with a moderately skilled woman golfer, pay attention to her club selection and the type of shot she hits into the greens. On a par-4 hole in which both you and she hit a wood off the tee and find the fairway, her tee box should be far enough ahead of yours to create a similar type of approach shot for each of you. Your ball may be 135 yards out, calling for perhaps an 8-iron, and hers may be 140 yards out, calling for a 6-iron, but both will be lofted shots with the emphasis on accuracy, not power.
Naturally, there are other aspects of a golf experience that can create enjoyment or frustration for a female player, most notably an equality of locker room facilities and sincere respect displayed by staff members. But course design that offers a level playing field to women golfers is critical, and it doesn’t take an expert to determine that.
ENVIRONMENTAL RESTRICTIONS: A TWO-EDGED SWORD
Every course course-construction project that gets a green light gets a yellow caution flag as well, from the environmental-protection agencies and activists around it. Holes are routed to protect water supplies and wildlife habitat, not always to provide the architect’s first-choice path from tee to green.
In some cases, a jagged, jumbled course results and there is little measurable environmental gain. In other cases, a natural-looking landscape is created, the course is fun and challenging to play, and the population of native songbirds and important pollinators increase threefold.
It’s easy for “golf people” to bash the “tree-hugger” element and grouse about any restrictions on the path of play. As a corporate representative, you have to remember the other side of the question. Otherwise, the next client you moan to about “hippie environmentalists” may pull a Sierra Club membership card from his wallet and plead guilty as charged.
End of Part 1: Read the second and concluding part of this article to learn more ways to look good when you pick out the course for a business outing.